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COVID-19: Japan to resume tourism with pilot programme for small group tours

COVID-19: Japan to resume tourism with pilot programme for small group tours

It’s hard to believe that it has been over 2 years since Japan closed off its borders to the rest of the world at the onset of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), ceasing virtually all tourism activity. Since then, travellers everywhere have weathered through the brunt of the pandemic, anxiously awaiting the day when we would be able to step into the country again for leisure and holidaying. 


And after nearly half a year of a drought of good news and updates, we finally have tidings of good things to come, as on Tuesday, 17 May 2022, an official announcement dropped from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MILT), stating that pilot tours for a small number of foreign tourists will begin as early as this month.


Does that mean I can start planning for my trip to Japan?

Don’t be too quick to book those flight tickets just yet. (Image credit: photoAC)


The first thing to understand about this announcement is that it is NOT so much a reopening of the borders to tourists, but rather a trial project conducted by the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) in which they want to test the effectiveness of their current infrastructure in handling tourists while preventing the spread of COVID-19. The results of these first few pioneer tour groups will help the JTA in formulating future guidelines and measures for when they are ready to fully resume overseas tourism to Japan and open the borders.


What we know so far

Travel will strictly be limited to small tour groups under this new pilot. (Image credit: acworks)


From the month of May, small group package tours will be conducted by selected travel agencies from the Japan Association of Travel Agents. These tours will be held under controlled conditions, including restrictions on where they may visit and stay. The itineraries will be pre-determined and the tour groups must be accompanied by their guides at all times. These tours will also only be able to travel to prefectures that have agreed to act as hosts and are not currently under a state of emergency.


As of the time of writing, many important details have yet to be released to the public, such as which travel agencies will be participating in these group tours or the dates and places where they will be travelling to, but what we do have is a rough understanding of the requirements needed to participate in this programme:

  • All participants must have taken a minimum of THREE doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • All participants must depart from one of the four designated countries of Singapore, The United States, Australia or Thailand. (Whether this means you need to be a resident of the aforementioned countries or simply depart from them before arriving in Japan remains unclear)
  • All participants must have private medical insurance.

We can expect this pilot to cap at around 10–15 tour groups, with about 50 participants in total. More news and information on this programme is expected to flow in during the weeks to come. While it might be slightly disheartening to hear about the strict limits and guidelines being implemented for this programme, take heart in knowing that this is merely the first step in preparing for a safe and secure reopening of the borders, so that when we do get to finally freely travel to Japan again, we will be able to do so with peace of mind.


*Further details on this programme are subject to change based on developments in the COVID-19 situation in Japan, flight conditions, and other factors.


Header image credit: Pakutaso


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